by Gerry Black

For many products and services, the key to developing an effective brochure is to understand where it fits into the buying process. Typically, a brochure can be used to support advertising; as a sales tool for salespeople and your distribution channel; as an information source for new customers; and as point-of-sale literature.

Before you write your brochure, you must know your intended audience. Will it be informed buyers who will be looking for points of comparison, or will it be a prospect that needs answers to more basic questions?

Your brochure is a sales document that must fit the needs of the reader. It's important to write your copy so it moves the reader to buy your product or service. For example, a busy executive wants the information in easy-to-scan, bite size pieces. A prospect for accounting software will likely want to see tables of numbers and reporting examples. If you are selling a complex piece of equipment to a plant engineer, the copy can be as long as necessary in order for the prospect to understand how he will benefit.

Regardless of your audience, your brochure will most likely be read when you are not around to provide the selling story, so instead of a collection of product facts and features, the sales document should lead the reader to the next step in the sales process.

Is there supporting sales material? Determine whether the brochure is supported by other sales material, as this will determine the content of the brochure. For example, assume you sell a product that delivers a potential energy cost savings. Showing the customer how you calculated the potential savings is important because it adds credibility to your sales offering. However, if you already have a chart that shows the various cost savings scenarios, there's no need to include that information in the brochure copy. The copy can bring the reader's attention to that fact and the reader can refer to the chart that accompanies the brochure. On the other hand, if collateral material such as data sheets, ads, annual reports or direct mail materials do not exist, it's important that the brochure tell the complete story about your offering.

Use the front cover to sell. There is no shortage of brochures to read so it's important to give the reader a compelling reason to read yours. How do you do that? By ensuring that there is a strong benefit headline positioned on the front. This is your first selling opportunity. When the reader pulls the brochure out of the envelope or sees it on a table, you need to be ready. Your brochure cover must have a strong headline or pertinent graphic. Don't waste this valuable selling opportunity.

Organize your selling points. Like any story, your brochure should have a beginning, middle and end. Think about how you would tell your story if you were talking to the reader face-to-face. Then, use the same basic approach in your brochure.

Make it easy-to-read. We have all picked up a brochure and been overwhelmed by a sea of information that all seems to run together. What's the next thing we do? Usually close it and say we'll read it later. Guess what? We seldom do. Use headings and subheads to make your copy easy to follow. Both can be used to give a short version of your story for the reader who simply wants to scan the copy. Pay attention to how your brochure will look as it's being put together.

Tell the reader what they should do next. Like any selling situation, you must tell the reader what the next step is. Do you want him to place an order? Phone for more information? Send in a reply card? Make the desired action obvious to the reader and make it easy to respond by using toll free numbers, order forms or reply cards. We've all been in situations where we've been ready to buy only to be frustrated by how hard it was to complete the transaction.

Proofread your brochure. Check for spelling, missing words, punctuation and grammar. Double check your address, phone number and website url. If you offer various methods of payment, make sure it's communicated. At this point, you want to include everything that can help the reader take the next step in the buying process.